Courtney Sanford, Innovation Scholar

Looking at Courtney Sanford’s résumé, it is clear that she has a talent for innovation.

Sanford, who grew up in Hendersonville, Tenn., but graduated from Walton High School in Marietta, Ga., started taking classes at a local college before beginning high school because she wanted more opportunities to challenge herself.

She also worked with the department of biostatistics and bioinformatics at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health, where she served as the first and only intern who was not a graduate student.

“I wasn’t afraid to think outside of the box when it came to things I was passionate about,” Sanford said. “If there was something I wanted to do, I pursued it, regardless of whether it was typical or easily available.”

Sanford decided to pursue a career in public health research after completing the internship at Emory and is a sophomore biostatistics and environmental studies double major. She says she was drawn to UNC by its excellent public health program, but that its “atmosphere, abundance of research opportunities and how passionate everyone seemed to be both about the university and their own interests” also contributed to her decision to attend Carolina.

UNC’s first Innovation Scholar

Fittingly, Sanford’s own passion brought her to UNC as the University’s first Innovation Scholar. The Innovation Scholar program is part of the Innovate@Carolina initiative. It is closely linked to the minor in entrepreneurship in the College of Arts and Sciences, and draws on the University’s resources to provide support and promote scholars’ entrepreneurial efforts.

One of five Innovation Scholars to date, Sanford has access through the program to financial, academic and social resources that have enriched her college career.

“The Innovation Scholarship gave me the opportunity to pursue extracurricular activities and projects that I probably wouldn’t have been able to otherwise,” she said.

On campus, Sanford has been part of the Chancellor’s Student Innovation Team, TEDxUNC Development Committee, Honors Student Executive Board and APPLES Service-Learning, among other activities. She spent spring 2012 studying abroad at the Lorenzo de’Medici Institute in Florence, Italy, where she learned to have a more global perspective when approaching issues such as public health.

Before returning to Carolina in fall 2012, Sanford will be in Atlanta to assist in an Emory University study on how ozone levels and environmental conditions affect exercise in athletes.  She will serve as Director of Outreach and Development for the Chancellor’s Student Innovation Team (CSIT) and Carolina Creates, in addition to co-director of CSIT’s Applied Sciences committee.

Sanford’s talent for innovation allows her to realize that it is not limited to herself and her fellow scholars. She urged her peers to take advantage of the resources UNC provides to cultivate innovation and entrepreneurship through a co-authored letter to the editor of the student-run Daily Tar Heel and her work as a member of the entrepreneurship minor’s marketing committee.

However, she does not say it any better than in an blog about her reaction to the TEDxAshokaU conference held at Duke University in April 2011.

She wrote, “So much is wrong with our world, yet so much potential sits in the hands of students and our generation. We have so much knowledge and passion, why waste it doing anything other than changing the world?”

Published June 11, 2012.